The Merchants of Cool

I personally found The Merchants of Cool funny because I was part of the tail end of the generation the documentary focused on. While I don’t remember any of the specific advertisements mentioned, I do remember being sucked into following a lot of the fads and trends. As a teen or “tween” as we were dubbed, I remember being extremely aware of what was being marketed to me and other people in my generation – primarily because I remember people pointing out the fact that they had never seen so much advertising being geared towards the younger generations – but I definitely fell for the ads (N*SYNC trading cards anyone?). Because I grew up being aware of all of the different types of marketing techniques were geared towards teens, I was expecting to be left with a so-what kind of feeling after watching the documentary. Instead I was left pretty angry.

As casual observers of advertising, I don’t think anyone really has an idea of how much effort and thought goes into creating an advertisement for any demographic, let alone teens. I was pretty shocked to learn that there are so few big companies controlling the majority of the media we consume. Having record companies, television networks, and any other number of media related companies under a larger umbrella, really represents how incestuous the entire industry is, and how controlled and planned media is. There’s almost no way to ignore a band for instance when their music simultaneously shows up on a radio stations, as a background soundtrack on a television show, on merchandise sold everywhere and on talk shows.

I think the most interesting point that was made in the documentary was the commentary about the cyclical effect of marketing – how something is found, defined as cool, and then exploited until it is no longer cool. How this cyclical effect impacts media consumers I found to be really disturbing. It’s not a new idea that people observe behaviors, or see a fashion trend on others for instance, and then repeat them – that’s pretty much the purpose of marketing. But, the portrayal of the young girl who was attempting to be discovered as a model really disturbed me. I had a really hard time watching the end of the documentary where she was shown at a party, dancing very maturely, drawing in attention and then making herself into more of a spectacle when she realized she was being filmed. The documentary’s commentary questioned whether she was just a product of the marketing wheel that pushes out representations of what is cool, to be repeated by the public, or whether she would have acted and behaved that way, without having consumed a similar image in the media. While its irrational for me to hope that media will become smarter about the kind of images and behavior they put out as cool, I can’t give up hope that something does change, because I think how that young girl was portrayed, and what actions and behaviors she viewed as cool, have only gotten worse since the documentary was made.

The Fault in Our Stars

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green
Grand Haven, Michigan: Brilliance Audio, 2011.
Read by Kate Rudd

I listened to The Fault in Our Stars as an audiobook. This was the first time I had actually listened to an audiobook, and I was expecting to get very frustrated with the format because I love sitting and physically holding a book in my hand. But, very quickly I became invested in Hazel Grace’s character, not just because of how beautifully she was written, but also because of how her character was read.

As a reader you almost don’t want to be able to relate to Hazel. We don’t really want to be able to learn what it feels like, and how hard it is to know that we have terminal cancer. It seems almost disrespectful to people who have had to face cancer, to feel as though we understand and relate to what they are going through. But Green’s novel is so beautifully crafted, that you can’t help but feel like you know Hazel and that you understand exactly what she is going through. Hazel has to deal not only with being sick, but also with rectifying her previously delayed teenage experience, while finding out what it means to stick up for what you want. The idea of what teenagers can handle and what kinds of experiences are appropriate for them is really called into question when a teenager will probably never be of legal drinking age, and will never reach an age where it is deemed acceptable to pronounce you are in love, and not have your love minimized to just being a schoolgirl crush.

Hazel asks questions, and thinks things that are not easy thoughts for the reader to consider. She worries about what is going to happen to her parents after she has died, if they’ll get a divorce because statistics show most parents who lose a child will. She worries because she once overheard her mom crying that once Hazel was gone she will no longer be a mom, and because her dad can’t stop crying anytime her health is brought up. The Fault in Our Stars portrays characters asking hard questions, dealing with hard situations, and having thoughts that reflect the illogical and irrational fears, worries and thoughts we all have when we are at our lowest point.

Hazel’s story is not easy to get through, it is heartbreaking, it is sad, but it is also a celebration of life and the people who make your life worth living. Hazel has the opportunity to learn how deeply someone else can love you, and how deeply you can love someone. In Gus, Hazel finds someone to hold onto, in a time when the easiest thing to do is let go. The Fault in Our Stars is the most realistic representation of extreme hardship in the face of disease that I have ever encountered. Green has created a novel that finds beauty in one of the most difficult and painful life experiences.

Censoring Materials

WeetziebatWeetzie Bat
Francesca Lia Block
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

My reading response this week is going to take on a bit of a different tone than my typical book review. Censorship, why people censor and how people go about censoring are topics that I am extremely interested in, and that I have spent a great amount of time researching. I believe, and I’m sure my feelings on censorship aren’t drastically different from anyone else’s in the class, that censorship of any materials (with the exception of illegal materials) is wrong. That being said, a more appropriate type of audiences can exist for a material, but the decision of whether or not an individual is part of that audience should be left up to them. One experience with censorship that I have had, where I was the one inadvertently censoring, happened when I worked at Chapters. A middle-aged man asked me if we had a copy of Mein Kampf. I was so ignorant to the title that I had to have him spell it out for me in order to search the inventory system. Only after he explained what the book was about did I clue in, and told him Chapters’ selling edict about not carrying any materials on child pornography, assembling/producing weaponry, or materials that could be viewed as sympathizing with Nazism. My manager told me that the third edict was because the family of CEO Heather Reisman was significantly affected during WW2. I never really questioned the appropriateness of these edicts, or how they were inflicting censorship. The man’s response when I conveyed this information has stuck with me ever since, he said (I’m paraphrasing), that if we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, and if we are prevented others from even learning about those mistakes, how can we as a society ever hope to be better than we were. This interaction made me rethink my stance on censorship in any form, and how reading about something you don’t understand can help you learn more about yourself, your values and the world you live in.

monster

Monster
Walter Dean Meyers
New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Weetzie Bat and Monster are interesting titles because they have very distinct character voices that do not necessarily represent a worldview or life experience typically represented in fiction. Not reflecting a typical worldview or life experiences, in being different, can create controversy, or give people reason’s why the books should be censored. In Weetzie Bat there are mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, overdose, failed marriage, adultery, death, same-sex relationships, and one-night-stands, coupled with the fact that Weetzie has very mature desires like having a baby, while her age and her maturity level is fairly left fairly ambiguous. In Monster, whether or not Steve is actually innocent, is left fairly ambiguous. The reader never learns if they are rooting for someone that played a part in a murder, or not. There are also strong discussions of gangs, violence and life in jail. While the events, situation, and narrative voices do not necessarily reflect typical worldview or life experience, that is not a reason for either of the books to be censored, or banned. There will be readers that directly relate to the events in Monster or the quirkiness in Weetzie Bat. Or, there may be a reader who reads Monster and makes a change in how they live their life. Neither book should be censored or banned from a library.

In the library we need to recognize what it is about these books that readers could find appealing, and what characteristics a reader won’t find appealing, the same way we would for any other title. Like the customer at Chapters taught me, being exposed to materials that reflect situations or a worldview that the reader does not personally relate to or understand will only help them become more knowledgeable, learning from other peoples mistakes, the way other people live, and the types of motivations and decisions that people who are not like them make.

Exposing ourselves to materials that others may take offence to, whether or not we like the materials, or personally agree with what the materials say, can only help us be better rounded readers and more educated Librarians. Exposure to different materials will help solidify our stance on intellectual freedom, and the right for the individual to decide what materials are right for them.

Doing It

doing-it
Doing It
Melvin Burgess
New York: Henry Holt, 2006.
326 pages

Welcome to the teenage boy’s mind. Three friends, Dino, Jonathan and Ben, their relationships with each other, girls, and their conceptions about sex are the centerpiece for Melvin Burgess’ novel Doing It. Dino is the ‘playboy’. The most popular, good-looking boy at school, and he knows it. The only girl he sees as being good enough for him is Jackie, the most popular and pretty girl at school, but she wont sleep with him, even though he tries very hard to convince her she should. Jonathan begins a ‘friends-with-benefits’ type relationship with Deborah, a girl that he’s not comfortable starting a real relationship with because he thinks people will make fun of him, considering Deborah is on the chubby side. Ben to the outside world seems to be the one the least interested in a relationship or sex, but his friends don’t know that he has been in an relationship with their teacher, ‘Miss’ for an extended period of time.

The boy’s stories can be funny, sad, endearing, and annoying. Readers will feel like they have known a Dino, Jonathan, and a Ben. Whether having known these characters is a good thing or a bad thing is up to them. The boys opinions, thoughts and experiences, and infrequently added narration by the girls, can shed some light on questions that readers have, or illustrate experiences that readers can relate too. At times the situations that the teens find themselves in may not reflect a typical teenage experience, but these parts of the story add a certain amount of entertainment value to the story. The sexual content is not extremely explicit, though it could be too much for some readers depending on their maturity level. Even though the content is not explicit there are definite descriptions and allusion to many types of situations. Readers of this title should be mature enough to handle frank discussions of sex, sexual abuse, drug abuse, excessive drinking, extramarital affairs, and suicide.

The near complete lack of adults in the novel emphasizes that this story is for teenagers about teenagers. Information about sex, or knowledge of drugs and alcohol are at times off base, teenage immaturity is very evident, and they make mistakes. But because the teens are not perfect, and they are not all knowing, the story becomes much more real and relatable for teen readers.